I’m no puppet insists Rangers chief Graham Wallace

Wallace with McCoist, David Somers, Norman Crighton and Sandy Easdale at the AGM. Picture: PA
Wallace with McCoist, David Somers, Norman Crighton and Sandy Easdale at the AGM. Picture: PA
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‘In terms of running business, I have the pivotal voice’

GRAHAM Wallace is a man alone among the Rangers suits. The chief executive has the support of the institutional investors who kept the current board in place at this week’s agm, and, crucially, also the backing of the very “requisitioners” and fans who failed to change the make-up of that body.

To keep all those competing factions on-side, Wallace needs to prove that he is no marionette for the power-brokers. No chief executive has a free hand but his challenge is to demonstrate one hand is not tied behind his back.

The chartered accountant, now a month in post, is in no doubt he can wield greater authority than anyone else behind the scenes and exert the control required to enact a plan for stable and sensible management at a club that “frankly didn’t have a plan”.

“I see no impediment to being able to implement what I want to do,” he said. “My hands are not tied by anything or anyone. I am completely independent, I have no links to anybody in the club or in the business. Yes, I was appointed by the previous board, but that was the board that was in place prior to the new chairman and additional non-exec being appointed. I went through a process of interview and discussion in the way you would expect anybody to do to come in to a position like this. I am very confident in my own ability to make the judgment that needs to be made and go and seek the mandate to go and do it.

“What we’ve got is an effectively functioning five-man board. I certainly think I have a very powerful voice. In terms of how we run and operate and plan to grow the business, I think I have the pivotal voice. I don’t have complete authority to do everything, and I will have to make recommendations to the board and discuss with the board, but in terms of taking that initiative and leadership role, it absolutely sits with me. There is nobody pulling strings behind me. I can absolutely assure you of that.”

Wallace’s predecessor, Craig Mather, made the same bullish noises. Then he found that the reality was he had to act at the behest, apparently, of the proxy-vote-packing Easdale brothers Sandy and James, who hold 26 per cent of Rangers shares.

How long finance director Brian Stockbridge remains on the board might indicate whether Wallace is being allowed to make the big calls. The Rangers chief executive maintains that it wouldn’t be right for him to come in and immediately sack a director – even one who let the club reach its perilous financial position. Equally, though, Wallace offers no real endorsement of Stockbridge. The source of supporter contempt, it could be that the finance director is used as human bait and fed to the supporters in May if there is a sense that his presence is slowing up vital season ticket renewals. Nothing Wallace says about Stockbridge makes that scenario impossible.

“If you look at Brian’s position, in particular, he is the last man from what would be considered the old board. He has been criticised for being the guy who apparently spent all the money. In Brian’s defence… the board signed off all the transactions [which] have been independently audited and reviewed and there has been nothing identified that is in any way underhand or fraudulent.

“I fully understand that in the eyes of the wider fan base there are a number of issues with Brian and his links to that previous board. And what I would say from a chief exec’s position, it would be wrong of me to come in to the business and three weeks later start dismissing people. I need to be given the time to make my own assessment and I will do that for the entire business.”

Supporters may think they like the idea of Wallace because he hasn’t had time to do much wrong, but they might not be so taken by him if he does right by the club. As a rule, Rangers chief executives don’t do walking away from overspend or grandiose pronouncements. Wallace appears to be intent on doing both.

“One of the messages we tried to get over is balancing the success of the club with its sustainability. The supporter groups… want better governance. They want confidence in the people who are running their club, to know they are acting in the right manner. They also want long-term sustainability. We need to be able to run the business within our means and that’s what we intend to do.”

Wallace sees his Rangers mission as a five-year one. He admits the “key question” for him is “managing the cost base while not devaluing the football”. In attempting to square that circle, he will not predict a top-tier title can be won in the next five years. “We accept that when we are back in the top division we will be competing for the title and competitive in European competition. The question is how quickly we get there.

“It’s important that nobody looks at this as being an overnight project. In 18 months’ time we expect to be back in the top division. But there is a distinction between being back in the top division and being competitive. We need to be realistic in terms of how quickly we can be competitive at the top but that is absolutely our focus.”

That realism may chill supporters, but no more so than what Wallace has to say about the club’s followers withholding their custom if Stockbridge remains in position.

“When you read [about] boycotts and suchlike you [have to ask] what is gained other than damaging the club. I think the vast majority of the Rangers fans understand that. Any boycott puts their club in an even more perilous situation. They are a very intelligent supporter base but it is incumbent on us as a club to listen and to understand what the issues are. We are well aware that not all in the garden is rosy at the moment. But there is a strong commitment from my side to take a fresh look at how we engage with supporter groups. It’s not just engaging with the 200-300 who are the most vociferous – there are probably 44,000 others who come here who equally need to have a voice. Some may be happy with the way things are running and a sizeable number clearly are not, as demonstrated by the recent red-card protest.”

Keeping Rangers out of the red could tie in knots the no-strings-attached Wallace.